Gov. Charlie Baker said Monday that women's access to reproductive health care is not up for negotiation in Massachusetts, but suggested he would oppose an expansive abortion rights bill that would allow for abortions later in pregnancy in cases when the fetus is unlikely to survive after birth.
While the governor bemoaned the "inflated language" that gets used in the abortion debate – including by his own Republican party – Baker said he opposes "late-term abortion" and would defend the strength of the state's current laws.
Some Democrats on Beacon Hill are pushing legislation to expand access to abortion services in Massachusetts at a time when they worry that a women's right to choose is under attack at the federal level and in jeopardy because of an ideological shift on the Supreme Court.
"I don't support late-term abortions. I support current law here in Massachusetts. It's worked well for decades for women and families here in Massachusetts and that's what we support," said Baker, a pro-choice Republican.
Baker's comments came after he held a ceremonial bill-signing event with House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Karen Spilka and over a dozen lawmakers and advocates to celebrate their work to shield family planning clinics from federal funding cuts.
The bill, which Baker officially signed on Friday evening, would make up to $8 million available through June 30, 2020 - the end of fiscal year 2020 - to cover the loss of any Title X funding as a result of the Trump administration's new rule blocking funds to clinics that provide abortions or abortion referrals.
"It was important we felt to point out women's access to reproductive health care services here in the commonwealth of Massachusetts is not a negotiation of something that can be bargained out through some sort of legislative process in Washington, D.C.," Baker said.
The "ROE Act" filed by Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler and Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Haddad would expand access to abortion services, including allowing for abortions after 24 weeks in certain cases.
"Late-term abortions are for very specific reasons that should be decided with a medical professional and the family involved," Haddad told the News Service. "We already have women who leave the state when there are cases of a fatal fetal anomaly. That's what we're talking about. We're talking a fetus that can't survive outside the womb. We're talking about a fetus that has no future."
Told that the governor had just expressed his opposition, Haddad said, "We will agree to disagree and I will try to convince him. I think that what's out there is that people are saying this is abortion on demand. It is not."
Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons has branded the "ROE Act" the "radical infanticide bill" and has targeted the 92 House members and 22 Senate members listed by Planned Parenthood as co-sponsors on social media and in statements released through the MassGOP.
"Under the radical infanticide bill, absolutely nothing would be done to protect or even comfort a baby who survives a late-term abortion," Lyons said in a statement released the same day the House was passing the Title X bill last week.
"In addition, the extreme infanticide bill removes all practical limitations on aborting unborn babies," Lyons said.
Asked about the MassGOP chairman's rhetoric, Baker said Monday it's not the way he operates.
"I don't believe in questioning motives, I don't believe in questioning character and I think the inflated language that exists on all sides in politics has made it much harder for people to do the work that they're supposed to do on behalf of the people they serve and they represent," Baker said.
Lyons chose not respond after the governor's comments were shared by the News Service with a party spokesman.
The Haddad-Chandler bill would eliminate the requirement of parental consent for anyone under 18 to access abortion and would allow for abortions after 24 weeks if a physician determines that terminating the pregnancy is "necessary to protect the patient's life or physical or mental health, or in cases of lethal fatal anomalies, or where the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus."
Currently, no one in Massachusetts is allowed to have an abortion after 24 weeks unless their health is at risk.
"It's about a medical professional and a family, what is right in their circumstance. Not mine. Not Jim Lyons'," Haddad said.
DeLeo said the Roe Act was "just another" one of many bills filed this session. "We'll see what happens as it goes through the process and we'll take it up from there," he told reporters.
Chandler's version of the bill (S 1209) has been referred to the Committee on Public Health, while Haddad's bill (H 3320) was sent to the Committee on the Judiciary, which means there could be two hearings before two different committees on the bills.
The speaker, however, spoke earlier about the Title X bill and the importance to House leaders of protecting access to reproductive health.
"We've never stopped working on our place in protecting women's health," DeLeo said. "Should this Trump administration continue to go down this dangerous road, I want all of you to understand Massachusetts will stand up again and again and again."
And Spilka said that nearly 80,000 people in Massachusetts access health care through reproductive health clinics in Massachusetts each year, including men seeking screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and other services.
"We take care of the health of our residents," Spilka said.